Conspiracy theorists think the elite form trilateral commissions and illuminati societies that assemble underneath the Denver airport to rule the world. Not at all. We’re not secretive people. We’re braggy people. We go to parties. We meet at Davos, Sundance, TED and, best of all, the TIME 100 gala. We don’t so much talk about ruling the world as get drunk and exchange numbers so we can meet for expensive lunches and TIME the next recession.
While the TIME 100 gala is definitely one of the 100 Most Influential Parties, it’s way shorter than Bilderberg. Plus, the speeches, performances and dinner get in the way of email swapping. So I figured I’d preintroduce some of this year’s attendees over the phone, so that they could more quickly connect and so that I would have their phone numbers.
To prepare, I called Jonathan Levy, a guy who throws huge dinner parties in New York for famous people he wants to meet. “What if you give them a secret-Santa-type gift?” he suggested. “And a haiku that’s a hint as to who they are so they can search online and find them. That way they leave and say, ‘I hung out with so-and-so, and they gave me this stupid Ikea wrench.’” I thought this was a great idea that I totally wasn’t going to use. So instead he suggested I tell a personal story about each person to the other, much as the TIME 100 does in print.
For my first attempt, I put 33-year-old comedian Amy Schumer on the phone with Pardis Sabeti, the 39-year-old TIME co–Person of the Year who sequenced the Ebola genome and is the lead singer of a rock band. It turned out that Sabeti was a huge fan of Schumer’s and Schumer knew a lot about Ebola, since she had dated a doctor who was an expert on the disease. Sabeti said she lost six friends who worked with her in the hospital in Sierra Leone, and Schumer sighed in empathy. “The disease is kind of a sensitive spot for me too,” she said. “I had a weird breakup.”
The call ended well, with Sabeti inviting Schumer to Harvard, where she teaches, which Schumer was excited about. Then Sabeti invited her to Orlando because “my parents live by Disney,” which Schumer was not excited about. “You can stay at my place in New York,” Schumer offered, “but we’d have to sleep head to toe.” If that’s how it works in her apartment, I’m really surprised the Ebola doctor didn’t stay with her.
Next I picked people who I thought would love meeting each other: Serial podcast host Sarah Koenig and Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. They bonded so quickly that within two minutes they were talking about unjust capital-punishment cases, which is like third base for liberals. When I asked Stevenson who he wanted to meet most, he said Audra McDonald, who I also wanted to meet most, possibly for the same reason, if Stevenson’s reason is to stand really close to her, mumble something incomprehensible about how pretty and talented she is and then walk away hating himself. Koenig promised to introduce all of us. But she said she was so satisfied with talking to Stevenson “that I don’t even need to go.” I told her that she couldn’t back out or I’d get in a lot of trouble. I have no idea if that’s true, but I don’t want to take any chances of not meeting Audra McDonald.
Because I have an actual friend on this year’s list—Jill Soloway, creator of the show Transparent—I wanted to brag about that in this column. So I put her on the phone with Jennifer Doudna, a Berkeley professor who figured out how to swap out parts of genes. Soloway asked if Doudna was worried that people would try to get rid of the transsexual gene, which would be bad, since “trans people are the coolest people I know.” Doudna explained that she joined a bunch of scientists saying that messing with human genes is bad, though she hadn’t thought about transgender people specifically. If she’s placed at Soloway’s table, she’s going to be thinking about them a lot more.
Soloway was glad to have met Doudna but wondered how she would recognize other important people. “Do people wear name tags like hello my name is arianna huffington, so I know who people are? So people know who I am, more importantly,” she said. That’s such an adorably first-time influential question. Huffington makes it her job to know who every influential person is. Soloway is going to have to up her game if she’s going to join the new world order.